Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America / Edition 1

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These thirteen original essays are provocative explorations in the construction and representation of self in America's colonial and early republican eras. Highlighting the increasing importance of interdisciplinary research for the field of early American history, these leading scholars in the field extend their reach to literary criticism, anthropology, psychology, and material culture. The collection is organized into three parts—Histories of Self, Texts of Self, and Reflections on Defining Self. Individual essays examine the significance of dreams, diaries, and carved chests, murder and suicide, Indian kinship, and the experiences of African American sailors. Gathered in celebration of the Institute of Early American History and Culture's fiftieth anniversary, these imaginative inquiries will stimulate critical thinking and open new avenues of investigation on the forging of self-identity in early America. The contributors are W. Jeffrey Bolster, T. H. Breen, Elaine Forman Crane, Greg Dening, Philip Greven, Rhys Isaac, Kenneth A. Lockridge, James H. Merrell, Donna Merwick, Mary Beth Norton, Mechal Sobel, Alan Taylor, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Richard White.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[V]iews of daily life are broadened and what it meant to live in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America is reexamined.

Journal of American Culture

A compelling look at a growing trend in writing early American history.

Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

[R]ich and diverse.

Reviews in American History

Every historian serious about early America, or historiography in general, should own this landmark collection.


In addition to offering fresh insight into problems of identity, the book in all its variety makes terrific reading.

Patricia Meyer Spacks, University of Virginia

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ronald Hoffman is director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

Mechal Sobel is professor of history at the University of Haifa.

Fredrika J. Teute is the Institute's editor of publications.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: In Search of a Metaphor / Greg Dening

PART I: Histories of Self
Histories of Self / Greg Dening

"The Cast of His Countenance": Reading Andrew Montour / James H. Merrell

Communal Definitions of Gendered Identity in Seventeenth-Century English America / Mary Beth Norton

Making History: The Force of Public Opinion and the Last Years of Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts / T. H. Breen

"The Unhappy Stephen Arnold": An Episode of Murder and Penitence in the Early Republic / Alan Taylor

The Suicide of a Notary: Language, Personal Identity, and Conquest in Colonial New York / Donna Merwick

PART II: Texts of Self
Texts of Self / Greg Dening

The Revolution in Selves: Black and White Inner Aliens / Mechal Sobel

Stories and Constructions of Identity: Folk Tellings and Diary Inscriptions in Revolutionary Virginia / Rhys Isaac

Hannah Barnard's Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth-Century New England / Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Colonial Self-Fashioning: Paradoxes and Pathologies in the Construction of Genteel Identity in Eighteenth-Century America / Kenneth A. Lockridge

PART III: Reflections on Defining Self
Reflections on Defining Self / Greg Dening

The Self Shaped and Misshaped: The Protestant Temperament Reconsidered / Philip Greven

"I Have Suffer'd Much Today": The Defining Force of Pain in Early America / Elaine Forman Crane

"Although I am dead, I am not entirely dead. I have left a second of myself": Constructing Self and Persons on the Middle Ground of Early America / Richard White

An Inner Diaspora: Black Sailors Making Selves / W. Jeffrey Bolster

Notes on the Contributors

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